Ultima Thuleby Davis McCombs
The 1999 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition is Davis McCombs's Ultima Thule, which was acclaimed as "a book of exploration, of searching regard.... a grave, attentive holding of a light" by the contest judge, the distinguished poet W. S. Merwin. The poems are set above and below the Cave Country of south central Kentucky, where McCombs lives and which is home to thousands of caves. The book is framed by two sonnet sequences, the first about a slave guide and explorer at Mammoth Cave in the mid-1800s and the second about McCombs's experiences as a guide and park ranger there in the 1990s. Other poems deal with Mammoth Cave's four- thousand-year human history and the thrills of crawling into tight, rarely visited passageways to see what lies beyond. Often the poems search for oblique angles into personal experience, and the caves and the landscape they create form a personal geology.
The New York Times Book Review
Read an Excerpt
We slip the constant fifty-four
with ninety-eight point six, ten of us,
in the wobbling balance of lantern light.
We rattle and clink over breakdown
into rough-edged canyon, the cave
still holding a river's shape as it narrows
and deepens. And still the signs of life:
cane torches, half a gourd bowl,
and human feces cold two thousand years.
They came here mining salts, the limestone walls
scripted with gypsum, epsomite, mirabilite.
We choose our steps, careful to leave no sign
of passing. Near Mummy Valley a flat slab
propped upright and markings turtle?
dancing figure? map of the cave?
Twenty centuries and only one moment
when burnt torch end scraped limestone.
Mark, record, leave behind,
trace of what held heat, what is mine.
and post it to your social network
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